Zack Snyder’s Justice League Review: Doing Justice to the Vision
He even thanks the fans before the movie starts! Aww.
It’s imperative that I begin this review with an acknowledgement of bias. As evidenced here, here, here and probably elsewhere on Flickmetic, I’m a Zack Snyder fan. I have an affinity for the Snyderverse and even the flicks, like Wonder Woman, that aren’t directed by him but, at one point, inhabited the same universe. It’s all a confusing mess nowadays. But this declaration of a bias shouldn’t dissuade you from listening to me not only because every critic has a bias–and if they refute that they are lying–but because the skinny of the thing is this: if you were into Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, you will likely also enjoy this.
Joss Whedon’s 2017 Justice League was largely disparaged but not by me. I see the flaws, especially now, but at the time I enjoyed it. It was certainly the victim of a director change and production company tampering, but it is evident now–if it wasn’t then–that it never should have been released. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the definitive version and, most importantly, it is a crucial lesson in how you should let creators finish their story arcs (I’m looking at you Star Wars).
It was clear that Snyder was always developing a narrative that needed multiple movies to truly flesh it out. One could criticize the swiftness in which the Justice League was gathered, since the MCU took a lengthier approach, but I remembered defending Man of Steel back in the day because I figured that he would eventually become the Superman that everybody wanted. I’ve spent a gratuitous amount of time also going to bat for Batman v Superman for a variety of reasons which I won’t get into here. Here Snyder is finally able to bring all the characters to where they were always destined to go, and while I like Batman v Superman more, this is a treat. Yes, all four glorious hours of it.
From the opening–which has thankfully been changed–we are hit with an example of what makes Snyder so wonderful, but is also what has garnered some degree of distaste from people who aren’t as into his style. There’s a lot of gravitas here; it’s big, bold, symbolic, dark and perhaps even grandiose. The characters, for the most part, are showcased as godlike figures, which makes sense since some of them basically are. We watch as the results from a pivotal moment from Batman v Superman rings out into the world, and it feels huge. This is also a strategy Snyder also used at the beginning of Batman v Superman when he showed Bruce Wayne’s reaction to the events from Man of Steel. This continuity is something I appreciate because it makes the events feel colossal right from the outset.
As much as I love the MCU, and superhero movies in general, they often do a poor job of really demonstrating to the audience the stakes that are involved. Yes, the world is in trouble and the figures trying to prevent it are massive and above anything we mere mortals can do, but outside of a few cases it never feels that way. The risks are entertaining but hardly suspenseful. I only mention that because Justice League performs a feat that the other DCEU Snyder films also perform: there are consequences, or, at least, it feels like there will be.
Let me explain. As far as I’m concerned, one of the goals of an artist weaving this type of narrative should be to trick the audience into believing that anything can happen. Of course, we know that the heroes will ultimately save the day and when it comes down to it, most action movies are relatively predictable by the end. But what if, even for a fleeting moment, we can be tricked into believing that maybe things won’t go as planned… even if it’s just a tease, just the tip? The MCU did it with the end of Infinity War, and Snyder has consistently done it with his trilogy of films. He still follows the basic formula that works, but there were moments that made me wonder how things would go; times where, for a brief second, he flirted with the idea that things could go very differently. That was exciting to me.
That he was able to do this over a gargantuan runtime is even more impressive. What’s even more impressive is that it never felt its length. I glanced at the clock about an hour or so in and we were still coalescing the team. There were a few fights but for the most part it was a drama. It was slow and the characters struggled with both internal and external issues. Snyder took his sweet time as he fleshed out both the character arcs and the story as a whole.
I tell you this, mainly, to try to describe whether this is for you or not. The deliberate pacing was endearing to me but I can see criticisms from people who aren’t willing to dedicate that amount of time to something that doesn’t offer as much action as one might expect. If you thought that Dawn of Justice drowned in dialogue, the probability is high that you will have the same response here. If you want more of a thrill ride, you should probably move on because this does not rush to anything.
However, in my eyes, it used its duration effectively. I loved seeing certain stories expanded upon and how Snyder was finally able to explore–and piece together–some of the elements that he introduced earlier. Because of this cut I was finally capable of caring about a couple characters that I originally didn’t, while also getting to see one or two for the first time that I know I would be invested in moving forward, if that was actually going to happen. The slowness was a feature, not a criticism.
I could see the wordy presentation being off-putting but Snyder’s dedication to and insistence on his tone and the atmosphere always gives a lot to sink your teeth into. Along with the general headiness–which I know some see as pretention–there’s a looming devastation throughout. The arrival of evil is always hanging over people’s heads and it feels otherwordly, as it should since it is otherwordly. This is accomplished through the Snyder trademarks. These include, but are not limited to, a general grimness, slow motion, close-ups and an eye for where to stick the camera so an otherwise normal scene is elevated. The cinematography is just always gorgeous with his flicks and it’s no different here.
On top of that, Junkie XL’s score is an absolute banger. Whether it’s reusing certain notable tracks or the entirely new sounds, it hits every single time. We get to hear Wonder Woman’s theme a few times and every time it blares from the speakers it makes the fight scene more badass. Or maybe it’s the more low-key, sad music that plays in relation to Superman’s death/revival. Or maybe it’s the song that plays when Diana first puts eyes on a picture of Darkseid on the wall. You get the point: Junkie XL’s soundtrack, I think I’m in love with you.
If at any point so far you’re thinking that I just appreciate the technical components and am willing to forgive the dialogue, that’s not the case. I’m not saying I found the dialogue difficult or boring; what I’m saying is, if I did feel that to be true I still would have enjoyed this due to the eye candy on-screen and the composition that drilled its way into my ears. It all blends together seamlessly and encompasses the totality of Snyder’s imagination and interpretation of these beloved icons of the comic book world.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how the casting is on point. Justice League obviously isn’t the first time we’ve seen this portrayal of the main group of superheroes. The previous movies have shown Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman extensively while briefly exhibiting Cyborg and the Flash. But I still can’t get over how perfect everybody is in their roles. Batfleck is my favourite movie version of Batman so far and some credit needs to be given to Affleck because he has been efficient in playing a deeply tormented man. Henry Cavill oozes Superman energy; he’s charming, physical, and handsome but can also be really intimidating. I can’t even picture anybody but Gal Gadot playing Wonder Woman, nor would I want that because if you’ve been here before, you may be aware that she’s my celebrity crush. Yes, I’m an adult male, don’t judge. Then we have Jason Moamoa who may be the only person in the world who’s got the ability to make Aquaman really cool (sorry Aquaman fans). Ray Fisher earned quite a bit from this because he was given the time to make Cyborg a lot more interesting and Ezra Miller was definitely sufficient for the more comedic role.
This may surprise some but there’s actually some adequate humour. Some of the lines were used in the Whedon version, I know, but even some that weren’t were actually competent. I’m not saying that this is Deadpool, but an overlooked ingredient in the Snyder stew is the occasional glimpse of fun that somehow manages to slip through the cracks. Don’t get me wrong, his work here is undeniably serious, but the few jokes scattered throughout actually hit because it never feels like they’re planted just so the audience doesn’t get depressed. By the way, there were a couple jokes in Batman v Superman as well, so it’s not entirely unique to this film, even if it’s more commonplace here… admittedly, mostly due to Miller.
Perhaps another shocker to some is that, this time around, there’s a smidgen of light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve praised the dimness of the subject matter but with that said, Justice League actually uplifts the viewer. Imagine that, when a guy is given ample opportunity to see his ideas through to the end we actually get something that makes us feel good about ourselves. I’m not saying that audiences should retroactively like Man of Steel and Batman v Superman because now the characters have stepped into the sunlight, but what I am saying is that I hope some of the more cynical members of the audience can reassess the films on their own merits and perhaps even change their mind. I know, I shouldn’t even be mentioning other people in a review for a movie but it’s hard not to when these flicks–and I imagine this one as well, but not to the same level–are so divisive that it’s hard not to.
By now you might be wondering if I think this film is impeccable. Well, no, but the blemishes are also rather insignificant. While the combat is generally exciting, there’s no fight scene that’s really equivalent to the excellent warehouse scene in Batman v Superman. I know that it’s only one part but something like that really does a lot to create a fond memory of a movie, where you find yourself YouTubing the same video incessantly. The closest Justice League gets is a scene early on with Wonder Woman. It’s not even close but it benefits a bit, oddly enough, from Wonder Woman 1984 because seeing Diana actually utilizing the different tools at her disposal reminded me that, oh yeah, she’s a warrior.
Sporadically the dialogue can be a bit ham-fisted. Again, not a gigantic problem, especially in regards to a movie that is twice as long as the upper end of the average runtime (80 – 120 minutes) of a movie. As noted, others might see the glacial pacing as a foible but I think it just gave the story room to breathe and come together more organically, so I can’t lay that critique on it.
Look, I could sit here and act as if I didn’t absolutely adore every second of this film but you want honesty. For the most part it gave me everything that I wanted and improved upon the original in every single way. The plot was matured, the special effects and designs were vastly advanced when needed (Steppenwolf), and it never a casualty of bloat. I was left with mostly positive feelings, with the only negative feeling being the sadness I felt knowing that it was over and that we won’t witness a sequel.
Just get Zack to do Justice League 2.
He can runner faster than the Flash.
THAT'S ENOUGH, GET TO THE SCORE
I CAN'T HELP IT, I LIKE ZACK SNYDER
Zack Snyder’s Justice League will still be relatively controversial since he’s a distinct director, but for my money this is a great bit of closure for the story he set out to tell. It’s long but doesn’t feel long; it develops its characters well, pieces together the plot wonderfully, has an excellent soundtrack, and looks stunning. It may lack a little bit in certain ways but it was not enough to detract from my overall enjoyment that much.